This is not about expecting a private hospital to fulfil its social or moral responsibility or providing charity to the poor who cannot afford medical treatment. This is about a contractual obligation.
The news today about Delhi High Court issuing a notice to Apollo Hospital for charging money from poor patients might, but should not, be of any surprise to anyone. For only a couple of months back, the same court had recalled the Joint Venture Agreement dated 11th March, 1988 entered by the President of India with Apollo Hospital Enterprises Ltd. which
"clearly stipulated that the proposed company shall provide to Administrator the free facilities of medical diagnostic and other necessary care to not less than 1/3rd of the total capacity of 600 beds in the multi specialty hospital. It further provided that the hospital will also provide free of cost full medical diagnostic and other necessary facilities to 40% of the patients attending OPD of the hospital."
It was in view of these conditions relating to free treatment, the HC noted, that the land was leased for the hospital "at a nominal rate of Re.1 per month".
As the Law in Perspective blog points out:
Since its commissioning in 1996, however, the Hospital never provided free medical treatment to the poor as promised. Raising objections that the agreement did not place upon them any legal obligation to provide free medical aid or free consumables and also wanting "the definition of poor patients with guidelines on the nature of authorization for such patient referral and monitoring of admission", the High Court noted that "the issue of free treatment mostly remained on paper and nothing conclusive and effective came to the help of the needy citizens".
Read more about the Delhi High Court's detailed judgment at the Law in Perspective blog.
In this regard, also see how meager healthcare resources at AIIMS that are currently accessible by the poor may not continue to be so if recent policy recommendations are accepted.
Also see: the Draft National Health Bill and a critical look at it by Colin Gonsalves:
at its core it fails to guarantee genuine free health care for the people of India. The framework is entirely that of globalization where the state is not seeing as being necessary for providing health care services and is relegated to a subordinate role of “regulating” the private sector which is expected to provide the bulk of the services. The poor will go to the private sector and hopefully may get subsidized services because huge funds of the state will be channeled to the private sector in terms of subsidies. Public sector funding will suffer. Public institutions already in a deplorable state will decline further. This is what the bill seeks to legitimize.
(Thanks to Tarunabh Khaitan for reminding me about this judgement)